Retro FAQ: Super Nintendo Entertainment System / Super Famicom

Discussion in 'Retro & Arcade' started by elvis, Aug 22, 2018.

  1. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    This is a partner series to our Retro Let's Play FAQ, aiming to assist people finding ways of playing old games from these old systems. All talk of resolutions, PAL vs NTSC and upscaling are covered in the Retro Display Solutions thread.

    The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (or "SNES") was first released in Japan as the Super Famicom (the successor to the Famicom - or "Family Computer") in 1990. North America got their NTSC version (similarly named as a successor to the "Nintendo Entertainment System", or "NES") in 1991 (with an ugly square box exterior, and horrible purple buttons). Europe, Australia and other regions got their version in 1992 in the same colour/design scheme as Japan, but with 50Hz output for PAL TVs (resulting in game slowdown for most titles compared to 60Hz NTSC - see the videos below).

    This system competed directly with other Fourth Generation video game consoles such as the Sega Megadrive / Genesis, NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16, and SNK Neo Geo.

    PAL vs NTSC

    Modern 3D games are timing based - events happen on an internal clock, and are "sampled" many times per second as they are drawn. Regardless of the frame rate, events happen at the same time, just at more or fewer frames per second.

    Old 2D consoles are instead frame based. What that means is that the game logic, animation speed, and internal processing are all hard-locked to the frame rate as the clock. So unlike a modern 3D computer where 5 minutes of game takes 5 minutes whether it's 50FPS, 60FPS or 120FPS, an old 2D console will take 2.7 minutes to play 10,000 frames at 60FPS, or 3.3 minutes at 50FPS. As this sets the rate for all calculations, the gameplay and even music will slow down as a result.

    Like most 16 bit consoles, PAL systems run at 50Hz compared to their faster 60Hz NTSC versions. Additionally, PAL's 288 progressive line resolution mean that 240 progressive line games from NTSC regions appeared squashed. A handful of games were either designed/developed in PAL regions (e.g.: French developer Delphine and their games "Flashback" and "Another World") or sped up to play at a similar speed to their NTSC counterparts (e.g.: Super Mario Allstars). But for most games, the black borders at top and bottom of the screen, along with slowdown were very apparent for PAL gamers. Watch the following video for a comparison. As a result, often sourcing NTSC consoles is desired to experience games "as they were intended".



    Playing the original system today

    The SNES is still fairly available to purchase second hand today, although like all things retro the price is rising. Each revision of the SNES employs region protection, which prevents cartridges from one region (broadly speaking, NTSC-J (Japan), NTSC-U (North America), PAL (Europe/Australia)) from working in another console. Not all games had region protection, but it's safer to assume all do. Converters exist that put an inline "CIC lockout chip" that can pretend to be other regions (often referred to as a "Super CIC"), as do most flash carts and clone carts (see below).

    A word of caution: the PAL SNES oddly takes a 9V AC power pack - identical to the PAL NES, but different from almost every other console of the same generation that took a DC power pack. The US SNES and Japanese Super Famicom both took DC power packs, so don't go putting a mis-matching power supply in your current console, otherwise you can cause damage.

    Spare parts, cables and power supplies are pretty easy to find. Worth buying from reputable vendors instead of Chinese sellers on eBay:
    https://www.retrosales.com.au/collections/snes

    Several models of the SNES exist within each region, including a "SNES Junior". Internally, the revisions commonly referred to are the "2-chip" and "1-chip" variety, with the latter, newer, "1-chip" being more sought after for cleaner video and audio (although some models sacrifice native RGB output, and need modding - see below).

    The SNES puts out a native 288p @50Hz mode for PAL, and 240p @60Hz, although worth mentioning that the sync rate is ever so slightly off, which can interfere with making the picture work on some TVs and via certain upscalers. If you're technically inclined, this thread on shmups.com covers the details, and the ongoing technical investigation and modification people are trying to solve the problem.

    The original models of the SNES in all regions supported CVBS, S-Video and RGB (via SCART) video output, with each one being an improvement on the one before it for image clarity (although each becomes slightly more difficult to connect to TVs, generally due to how common the connectors were).

    Like all retro consoles, many cable manufacturers exist that vary greatly in quality - some have barely any internal shielding, and end up with noticeable image ghosting or an audible "hum" in the sound output. Two verified excellent quality cable manufacturers are:

    Retro Gaming Cables (UK):
    https://www.retrogamingcables.co.uk/nintendo/super-nintendo

    HD Retro Vision (USA):
    https://www.hdretrovision.com/snes/

    Note that the HD Retro Vision cables include an internal RGB->YPbPr colour space transcoder, enabling the SNES to connect to a component input television or upscaler, despite the SNES not supporting that feature natively

    Official re-releases

    Nintendo have a few methods of buying SNES games today, and as always it's worth purchasing just to remind vendors that retro gamers exist, and are a valid market.

    The (mouthful) "Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Nintendo Entertainment System") is a small officially emulated SNES in a cute miniaturised casing, and includes 21 built in games.

    OCAU thread: https://forums.overclockers.com.au/threads/snes-mini.1220186/
    Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_NES_Classic_Edition

    Nintendo offer a "Virtual Console" service for Wii (now shut down), WiiU (still active, although it might be difficult to add money to the store now), and for the New Nintendo 3DS and 2DS (emphasis on the "New" model designation, as the original 3DS/2DS had less powerful hardware, and didn't support SNES games).

    Hardware modding

    Modding a SNES or Super Famicom requires some moderate to advanced soldering and electronics.

    There are several mods available. A common one desired by PAL gamers is a 60Hz mod, removal of region protection, and even S/PDIF digital audio output. Good guides here:
    http://retrorgb.com/snes.html
    http://www.mmmonkey.co.uk/category/nintendo/snes/

    Other mods include video amplification of certain models (the 1-chip / Junior / Mini (not Mini Classic)), which are only needed for models that don't support native RGB over SCART:
    https://voultar.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=51

    Flash, reproduction and clone carts

    An excellent way to play SNES games on original or clone consoles is via flash carts. These allow software to be flashed (sometimes one at a time, sometimes dynamically from an SD card) and played from the temporary cartridge. Newer model flash carts even support addon chips like the SA-1 (for Super Mario RPG) and Super FX (StarFox/StarWing).

    There are many makes and models, but the most popular by far are the Krikzz family of flash carts. Krikzz includes a "Super CIC" chip in each cartridge, enabling games from any region to work on any console, even if the original was region-locked (great for playing import or Japanese-only games on PAL systems):
    https://krikzz.com/store/

    Additionally, many clone carts exist. These are good if you know how to look out for them - but can be bad if sellers on eBay are selling them at genuine cart prices. So if you're buying genuine games to collect, be wary.

    https://www.aliexpress.com/wholesal...e_id=AS_20180822042402&SearchText=46+pin+game
    https://www.aliexpress.com/wholesal...e_id=AS_20180822042650&SearchText=16+bit+game

    There are also a number of people make more expensive reproduction carts, often focussing on community game hacks, or combinations of games mashed into carts with custom chips like the SA-1 or SuperFX:
    https://www.retrocircuits.com/product-category/super-nintendo/
    http://melbourneconsolerepros.com/index.php?cPath=23

    Clone consoles (non-FPGA)

    Like many older consoles, clone consoles for the SNES exist. Worth noting that these almost all have issues with either sound or video quality. For a quick nostalgia hit if you're not fussy, they're generally OK. But if you're seeking an authentic gaming experience, they're not up to scratch. Review of an example unit here, with good detail of the faults:



    Clone consoles (FPGA)

    FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) chips are a special type of chip that can be dynamically "programmed" to behave like other chips. These are now fast enough and have enough capacity to simulate the behaviour of old retro consoles in entirety, and remove the inherent "lag" many emulators introduce by the simple nature of running on top of a guest operating system and all the complexities and layers it introduces. It's worth remembering that FPGA systems can have "bugs" (inaccuracies in their simulations) compared to normal hardware, particularly when complex or undocumented hardware is being cloned.

    However currently the very excellent "Analogue Super Nt" FPGA clone console, created by the very brilliant "Kevtris" can be purchased, and has proven to be extremely accurate when played side by side with a genuine SNES. As the hardware can be dynamically programmed, updates have been made available to squash any remaining bugs.

    Unfortunately the device is quite expensive. However with additional features like native HDMI out for crystal-clear digital video and audio, internal upscaling for modern HD TVs, and sync fixes for the above-mentioned "SNES sync jitter" as well as fussy HD TVs, this device is considered the absolute best way to enjoy SNES games on modern TVs. The device also works perfectly with any cartridge that an original SNES supports, including Krikzz flash carts. It also is region-free, enabling you to play games from anywhere in the world.

    Official site:
    https://www.analogue.co/pages/super-nt/

    MLIG video review:


    The MiSTer FPGA project also now has a functioning SNES core. See the OCAU thread here:
    https://forums.overclockers.com.au/...r-console-arcade-hardware-simulation.1253887/

    Emulation

    The SNES is one of the trickiest 16 bit consoles to emulate. With a wide array of chips inside that all require complex synchronisation, "perfect" emulation is almost impossible. Note too that all emulation has a very slight amount of lag (typically noticable in a frame delay from button input to video output) due to the way modern computers work, and their complex software layers and non-realtime hardware access. For many games, however, this lag is within acceptable ranges (1-2 frames) so that they can still be enjoyed.

    The current gold standard for SNES Emulation is Byuu's "Higan". It includes several modes - "accuracy", "blend" and "performance", with the first being as accurate as possible, and each subsequent mode sacrificing certain non-game-breaking accuracy features to run more adequately on slower hardware. If using Higan, it's worth testing each version with framerates displayed (aiming for 60FPS in NTSC mode, 50FPS in PAL mode), and going for the best option your hardware can handle:

    https://byuu.org/emulation/higan/

    For RaspberryPi / RetroPie owners, there is an emulator based on original bsnes code (sister project to Higan) called "mercury-bsnes". This is available as a core for RetroArch (available on almost any PC hardware, as well as RPi hardware and various RetroPie/Lakka style Pi images). It takes futher optimisation shortcuts to attempt more reasonable performance on slower hardware like the Pi. Worth noting that audio particularly takes a hit on the less accurate versions, which is a real shame given the amazing sounds a real SNES can spit out.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2019
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  2. OP
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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  3. breech

    breech Member

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    Great stuff elvis. I was amazed when I first came across this by playing sonic (megadrive) on an NTSC console and it ran much faster. The music sounded manic compared to the chilled speed we run it at :)
     
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    I've had some questions on this paragraph, and the answers get a bit technical.

    As mentioned, with 2D consoles, the framerate sets the "clock", which you can think of as a drum beat that all components adhere to. While separate from the internal processor clock speeds, it's intrinsic to how things are processed inside old consoles.

    The following video does an excellent job of explaining the process, as well as what happens when things don't go according to plan (and you get the infamous SNES slowdown). While watching it, keep in mind the difference between NTSC 60Hz (or 60 frames per second), and PAL 50Hz (50 frames per second), and how that affects things.

     
  5. nimmers

    nimmers Member

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    What do you guys reckon the best option for us Aussies is to RGB mod a SNES Mini is? I've been sitting on a Japanese SNES Mini for a while and would like to RGB mod it but I can't source a Voultar board to do it because he won't ship outside the USA.
     
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    On phone, apologies for terse reply.

    https://oshpark.com/shared_projects/hMAav8Ju

    THS7374 based circuit. Order that board, or breadboard your own if you're cheap.

    Edit:
    http://retrorgb.com/snes1chip7374.html

    Edit2:
    https://console5.com/store/kits.html
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2018
  7. MrMaestro

    MrMaestro Member

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    Just a few notes on SD2SNES. With flash carts on SNES in general, compatibility is spotty because many games made use of extra chips on their cartridge to enhance performance. For example the SA1 chip is reportedly 4x more powerful than the SNES's own CPU. What makes SD2SNES so great it's high compatibility in comparison to flash carts, and just in the past couple of months has had SuperFX and SA1 compatibility added.

    My Life in Gaming's Flash Cart episode has a great video on flash cart options (and bare in mind SD2SNES is now even better than they say in the video!), plus the MSU-1 chip compatibility on SD2SNES that lets you add FMV and CD audio to SNES games.


    (Skip to 23:34 for Super Nintendo)

    Re purchasing SD2SNES, the firmware is open source so anyone can manufacture and sell it, although Krikzz (and his resellers) is the only official supplier. Krikzz's carts are top-quality and I have seen complaints about units from other sellers that have issues, for example with MSU-1 audio.

    Krikzz's SD2SNES is very expensive at around $300 delivered, however he usually does a Black Friday sale in November. I picked up an SD2SNES from the Krikzz Store last year on sale for around $220 delivered.
     
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  8. power

    power Member

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    nice thread, are you planning on doing a Sega one as well?

    I must admit I only played these things at friends houses as most of us were into home computers at the time, Atari and Commodore ruled the gaming roost amongst my circle.
     
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    A reminder that these aren't black and white for compatibility, either. Like the Analogue Super Nt, Krikzz's carts use FPGAs to simulate the various chips. And like all FPGA based systems to date, there's been a number of updates and fixes released after the fact to clean up bugs.

    Not a major issue for most people, but important to note that 100% accuracy is always a difficult thing to achieve, so keep abreast of updates if you use these devices.

    Plan on doing one for every console I can, prioritising consoles that come up in the "Retro Let's Play" month by month, to make it easier for people to join in (as this is a PC forum, so a lot of folks aren't up to scratch on consoles).

    Currently SNES and PS2 done, as that's the current batch of games. More to come as I have time. I'll be calling for help where I don't have the know how (likely the British microcomputers).
     
  10. MrMaestro

    MrMaestro Member

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    Regarding the 60 Hz mod, Video Game Perfection sells an inexpensive off-the-shelf board. I have one in my SNES and it works great.

    The only issue I've found is PAL Super Mario World has graphics artifacts when forced to 60 Hz.
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2018
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  11. flain

    flain Member

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    It's worth mentioning that many of the Chinese copies seem to fail, and subsequently people end up going to the krizz forums only to be told "sorry you need to talk to your Chinese seller". Also a common issue is a lot of the Chinese carts have less RAM on them because back then the firmware didn't use it all so the newer superfx and SA-1 support isn't working on many of them.

    If you do have a SD2SNES i recommend hunting down the smokemonster rom packs and the smokemonster MSU-1 packs if you can. You need a 200GB or so SDCard which is a little insane for SNES but it's quite a nice setup with things categorised really well. You can spend a lot of time exploring unreleased games and various rom hacks and checking out MSU-1 sound projects :). One really cool thing is the Satellaview Zelda games (even better with MSU-1 audio and video), if you are a Zelda fan you need to check those out as Satellaview was never available here. More info on Satallaview here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satellaview_games_from_The_Legend_of_Zelda_series

    One other thing to note is the SA-1 support takes up a lot of room on the FPGA so SA-1 and MSU-1 can't work together. This isn't as big of an issue as it sounds, some people were worried they'd have to constantly reflash the SD2SNES but that's not how it works. The SD2SNES loads what it needs into the FPGA each time you load up a game, so you have support for everything. It just means you can't have a game with SA-1 and MSU-1 in the same game (which i don't think there are any yet anyway).
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2018
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    A short FAQ on this:

    SNES cartridges are generally ROM chips that interface directly with the SNES hardware. While it's easy to think of them like a disk that holds data, they work more like a PCI-Express bus with things connected directly to internal SNES hardware over data paths as fast as any other internal component. As such, manufacturers could sometimes add new chips to the SNES inside a cartridge, and these were like mini-hardware upgrades to the SNES itself (and also happened to be a nice form of early copy protection, as the game wouldn't work without the special chip).

    "MSU1" is an audio expansion chip that was designed for the Super Nintendo, similar to other chips like the DSP chip (which gave Mario Kart the ability to do extra scaling effects for 2-Player split screen), and the SuperFX chip (which gave enhanced calculation power to games like StarFox/StarWing with 3D polygons, and Yoshi's Island for sprite scaling and rotation effects that weren't limited to background layers like Mode 7).

    MSU1 allowed for CD-quality (16bit, 44Khz) streaming audio, different to the "chip tune" generate music the SNES normally made via it's wavetable sound system (similar to how mod trackers, midi equipment, or cards like the GUS, AWE32 and worked). This was going to be a big part of how the ill-fated SNES-CD (which, ironically, would end up becoming the Sony PlayStation) was going to deal with audio.

    MSU1 was impractical for cartridges, primarily because of the size of the ROM chips required, which would make the game cartridges very expensive. Of course, now we have these sexy flash carts, and game size is a moot issue.

    Subjectively speaking, I *hate* MSU1 audio. I have no rational reason for that, other than my subjective love for chiptunes, and especially SNES audio. But, the option is there for people who want it. It should be noted, however, that not using MSU1 audio is fine, and you can still enjoy 100% of the original SNES library without ever using the feature.

     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2018
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  13. flain

    flain Member

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    I do agree here and i have pretty much the same opinion, however there is a use for MSU-1 that i do like. BS Zelda had voice actors and was never on actual carts, so MSU-1 allows playing it as close as you can get if you use a SNES with a SD2SNES cart.

    From wikipedia:
    Due to the short-lived nature of the game and the fact that the gameplay is intimately connected to the vocal SoundLink files that were broadcast into RAM and were thus incapable of digital preservation by receiving Satellaview-owners, the game cannot currently be played in its original form.[19] Despite this, however, a small subculture of collectors and enthusiasts devoted to the restoration of these games have successfully managed to dump the digital information originally downloaded to and saved on the Satellaview's 8M memory packs.[23] As temporally limited games, the copies of BS Zelda that had been saved on 8M Memory Packs were initially intended by Nintendo and St.GIGA to be over-written, by players, with later games.
     
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    Ikari has updated his SD2SNES due to hardware availability. He can now access a faster FPGA for the same price, so he's decided to scrap the old SD2SNES model permanently, and is now offering a SD2SNES Pro instead. Krikzz is selling it through his store.

    New model is here:
    https://krikzz.com/store/home/54-sd2snes-pro.html

    Changes are still rolling in with firmware update. Ikari mentions better save state support, Super GameBoy support, MSU-1 (full streaming PCM audio) with other chips like SuperFX, SA1, etc at the same time, and other stuff in the works.

    Ikari has a long winded chat with SmokeMonster here talking about the differences:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOy_AItdwog
     
  15. badmofo

    badmofo Member

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    These 'Retro FAQs' of yours are super helpful elvis, have you considered linking to them all in a sticky like you have with the Retro Let's Plays?
     
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    Last edited: Mar 18, 2019
  17. badmofo

    badmofo Member

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    Ah yep I see them now but yes I did look there before posting and didn't spot them.
     
  18. Camm

    Camm Member

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    Might I suggest the FAQ's might get a dedicated sub forum? Would be nice to see this information condensed rather than spread across the forum.
     
  19. Grant

    Grant Member

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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    I was wondering when someone would do that. Makes total sense to super-sample the in-chip math and then re-draw it to the screen at SNES resolutions (or even finer, if it's an emulator).

    Keen to see what this would look like on Super-FX too.

    Here's a video someone took of Pilotwings

     

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